"MINE and my coaching staff's methods,” Jose Mourinho said after Tottenham’s 2-1 loss to West Ham on 21 February, “are second to nobody in the world."
The Spurs boss was in a defensive mood after watching his side slip to a fifth Premier League defeat in six games. Despite an impressive start to the 2020-21 season, they now sit ninth in the table, their briefly held title ambitions now a distant memory and a nine-point chasm separating them from the top four.
Mourinho bristled when asked whether, perhaps, he might need to try something different to inspire his players to recover form, that maybe his tried and trusted way of operating was overdue a tweak or two. The former Real Madrid and Inter Milan manager rejected the notion and instead shifted the blame on to his players.
"I think for a long, long time, we have problems in the team that I cannot resolve by myself as a coach," he said, suggesting there is no managerial might strong enough to whip Spurs into shape.
At this stage, 15 months into his spell in north London, Mourinho appears to retain the support of a large chunk of Tottenham’s fan base. Many seem to agree with the manager that the players at his disposal – with notable exceptions such as Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Tanguy Ndombele – simply aren’t up to standard. They had, after all, been failing for months under Mauricio Pochettino before Mourinho was hired.
Curiously, Mourinho didn’t agree with that line of thinking upon taking the job. “The best gift are the players who are here,” he said at the time. “I don’t need new players.”
That fact he retains the support of a significant number of the club’s fans is reminiscent of his finals days at Manchester United. Even in the months after his sacking from Old Trafford, legions of United fans online were staunchly in the Portuguese’s corner.
Some Spurs players are unhappy with Jose Mourinho’s training sessions. They think they are too defensive, too focused on the opposition, and not as intense as they were used to under Mauricio Pochettino. [@TheAthleticUK]#COYS #THFC pic.twitter.com/fvhdg47P74
— The Spurs Express (@TheSpursExpress) February 23, 2021
What is more worryingly familiar from the tail end of Mourinho’s previous reigns, though, is the brewing discord within the squad. Just as his style of “confrontational leadership” led to high-profile fallouts with Iker Casillas at Real Madrid, Eden Hazard at Chelsea and Luke Shaw at United, Dele Alli and, most recently, Gareth Bale have found themselves in the manager’s bad books this season.
There are rumblings also, as reported recently by The Athletic, that many Tottenham’s players are dissatisfied with Mourinho’s approach in training and games, longing instead for the intensity and tactical structure Pochettino previously offered.
And along with his abrasive style of man-management, it is the tactical concerns allegedly held by many Spurs players that drive the notion that Mourinho no longer belongs in the elite echelon of the world’s coaches. Unlike contemporaries Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Pochettino and others, Mourinho does not coach prescriptive attacking patterns, instead focusing on defensive structure and preferring to allow his forward players to figure out for themselves how to unlock opponents.
️ "We have problems in the team that I cannot resolve by myself as a coach" – Jose Mourinho
— Unibet (@unibet) February 21, 2021
This has often led to – especially in times of low confidence for the team’s skill players – slow, predictable and ineffective attacking play; if Kane and Son aren’t at their brilliant best, Spurs are easily contained.
“Thank God I am not the manager I was,” Mourinho said recently of his current capacity to work through this rough patch at Spurs. “I would not be as calm and confident and in control of my emotions. I sometimes had problems – not in relation to results – and I reacted previously in a much more emotional way and instead of helping, I was creating a kind of conflict. To give you an example – I left Chelsea as a champion [in 2015].
“People with more experience are better equipped to cope with negative moments. I lose a game and I am not happy. But maturity helps. I believe we are going to improve and I will be in Tottenham’s history for the good reasons and not the bad reasons.”
The Europa League and a place in April’s League Cup final offer a path to salvation this season for Spurs and their manager. If he is to rescue his Tottenham reign from the brink, though, Mourinho needs to prove he really has changed, that he can learn from past mistakes and prevent history repeating.
Read more from Ryan Baldi HERE